by Joe Bollig
KANSAS CITY, Mo. — For Catholics, October 31 is the vigil before two solemnities: All Saints’ Day on Nov. 1 and All Souls’ Day on Nov. 2.
But for Lutherans and other Protestants, October 31 is Reformation Day.
Reformation Day is the anniversary of when a German monk and priest named Martin Luther nailed his 95 Theses on the door of All Saints Chapel at Wittenburg Castle in 1517.
This was the fuse that lit the explosion of the Protestant Reformation.
This fall, Catholics and Lutherans around the world have gathered for special 500th anniversary commemorations of the seminal event of 1517.
On Sept. 29, a joint Lutheran-Catholic Commemoration of the 500th anniversary of the Protestant Reformation was held at the Cathedral of the Immaculate Conception in Kansas City, Missouri.
Leading the event were Bishop James V. Johnston of the Diocese of Kansas City-St. Joseph; Bishop Rodger R. Gustafson of the Central States Synod of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America; and Archbishop Joseph F. Naumann of the Archdiocese of Kansas City in Kansas.
The commemoration was a time for participants to pray, express sorrow for the shattering of Christian unity and voice hope for the fulfillment of Jesus’ prayer in the Gospel of John “that they may all be one, as we are one.”
The prayer service included music, Scripture readings, prayers of repentance, the exchange of peace, two sermons and a recitation of the Apostle’s Creed.
Catholic and Lutheran representatives took turns reading commitments to the Five Ecumenical Imperatives in the text “From Conflict to Communion” from the Lutheran-Roman Catholic Commission on Unity.
Lutheran and Catholic representatives also offered intercessory prayers.
The first sermon was given by Archbishop Naumann, and the second by the Rev. Dr. Mari Larson of Reformation Church in Wichita.
In his sermon, Archbishop Naumann recalled his associations with Lutherans and Lutheran institutions while growing up in St. Louis, during seminary, while as a pastor and when he was consecrated an auxiliary bishop.
He also talked about what the 500th anniversary meant to Catholics.
“Dear Lutheran brothers and sisters, I trust you understand that the Reformation is not something that we as Catholics can celebrate. For us, it will always be a reminder of the tragic fracturing of the body of Christ,” he said.
“We can, however, prayerfully commemorate with you what was indeed a tremendously significant event in the history of Christianity,” he continued. “Indeed, it is an event of such importance and magnitude that we must commemorate it, lest we forget the lessons to be learned and repeat the mistakes that we as Catholics have made.
“We are honored and grateful to observe this prayerful commemoration with you whom we consider to be very much our brothers and sisters in Christ. We also understand that this is an important anniversary for you.”
In her sermon, Rev. Larson also recalled childhood memories of her associations with Catholics. She talked about the person of Martin Luther and the mixed legacy of the Reformation — having brought many closer to Christ, but also dividing Christians.
In our lifetime, however, a new chapter is being written in the story of divided Christians, she said.
“Conversations have happened on school buses and at coffee tables and in meeting rooms all over the world. And in the last 50 years, our official dialogue has been significant,” said Rev. Larson.
“And we are learning that, with the 32 agreements discussed in ‘Declaration on the Way,’ we can stand together, pray together, learn from each other and work together for the sake of Jesus Christ,” she continued.
“We can acknowledge that differences — significant differences — remain but that there is no need for vast chasms of separation,” she added.
Disputes between Lutherans and Catholics over the Eucharist, apostolicity and ordination can be put on hold while they feed the hungry, bring good news to the imprisoned and welcome the stranger.
“Our differences are important, but they need not divide us more than they already have,” she said.
The commemoration ended with all praying the Lord’s Prayer and singing a closing song.